Thursday, March 29, 2012

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Here I am at the Van Zandt County (Texas) Library teaching about the #1940Census!  I'm holding an Enumeration District map, which is going to be so instrumental in finding our ancestors until we get that index produced.  Are you going to participate in indexing?  Let me know how it goes!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Finding Mr. Right in 1940

This is Part II of a two-part introduction to the 1940 Federal Census release, which will take place on Apr. 2.

A certain N.H. Hilyard from San Angelo, in 1940, would not hear of participating in the federal census that has occurred every 10 years.

“Uncle Sam never counted me and I never caught a census enumerator making a nose count,” the 65-year-old told a reporter.

He’s just the sort of ancestor that most genealogists seem to have encountered in their historical research.

The maddening sort!

Mr. Hilyard’s brag brought a “special visit” from a census supervisor who, presumably, made sure that Hilyard’s name, age, household information were all recorded for official government business – establishing Congressional representation and (in those years following the Great Depression) surveying economic data across the nation.

The genealogist’s problem today is to find Mr. Hilyard and other ancestor’s on that federal census.  The census records, which have been closed for 72 years, will be opened to the public for the first time on April 2. (As an aside, note that no microfilm will be released by the government – all data will be digital and on-line.)

It’s a genealogist’s heyday.  Or more like “hay”-day, as in “needle-in-a-stack-of-hay.”  The point here is that all 138 million records will be released without an index.

So, to find Mr. Hilyard or your ancestor in 1940, family historians must go to one of the geographical groupings and read through the handwritten census schedule line by line.  Eye-wearying work, indeed, but it is the only way to locate a family until an index is produced.

Backing up a step, the researcher has to know which of these geographical areas, called “enumeration district” is the right one to scour. For that, we zero in on any known address of our ancestor.

Common tools to find old addresses are phone and community directories, old family letters, backs of photographs, inside covers of old family books and Bibles, tax records, property records, old newspaper reports or the previous federal census (the 1930).

That’s where N.H. Hilyard, despite his boast that he was never caught by the nose-counters is found! In 1930, his household address is recorded, and genealogists today can use that address to cross-reference and find the right enumeration district.

It will still be a line-by-line search from there to find him on the 1940 census, but it’s a start.

The premiere FREE cross-reference tools are located at  The census records will be available, also free, on and The official National Archives website has good up-to-date information as well as training:

Comments and questions to “Ask the Ancestors,” are encouraged. Lisa McKinney will lead a workshop on “Preparing for 1940” at the Van Zandt County Library in Canton on March 24 at 2 p.m. Contact her at for more information.

Expert unlocks DNA for county genealogy society

Expert unlocks DNA for county genealogical society

DNA genealogy expert Debbie Parker Wayne spoke at February’s regular meeting of the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society.

A hot topic in the genealogy field, as well as in law enforcement and health care, DNA can seem technical and hard to understand. Ms. Wayne, president of the Lone Star Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, put DNA in layperson’s terms.

Ms. Wayne compared the average genealogist’s understanding of DNA and genetics to a hobbyist’s understanding of astrophysics.

“The backyard astronomer can watch comets without having to get a Ph.D.,” she said.

In the same way, family historians can learn about Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal DNA, she said. And she went on to prove it in her lecture.

She said DNA is made up of “billions and billions of pairs of chemicals.” DNA laboratories analyze these biological chemicals and sort out the DNA “matches.”

·        Y-DNA can be used to follow a direct paternal line through male ancestors. For genealogists in this culture, this equates to tracing surnames. This is the form of genetic coding that resides in a cell’s nucleus.

·        Mitochondrial DNA, or “mtDNA” in the geneticist’s jargon, exists within cell structures known as mitochondria. This form can be used to analyze direct maternal lines.

·        Autosomal DNA exists throughout cells and can be seen as a mixture of a person’s entire genetic legacy.

Consumer testing can be had for all three of these types of DNA, said Ms. Wayne. Prices, which were once prohibitive, are coming down, with some tests as low as $99. So, in addition to untangling the technical information about DNA, Ms. Wayne gave some consumer tips about purchasing tests.

Some companies charge a monthly service fee for your data. Ms. Wayne suggests downloading your raw data, no matter which company one uses.

“Make sure you know what you’re ordering and what you’re paying for,” she said. In addition to her website,, she also recommended the International Society of Genetic Genealogy website, A Texas-based company with the largest database for comparison is Family Tree DNA at

The most important factor in hiring a testing company for genealogical matching is how big its database is. The more test results a company has, the more possible matches are available.

Ms. Wayne also said that genealogists should be aware that tests can only “support, not prove, relationships.” Certain tests, however, can rule out some family relationships.

The tests are “not a magic bullet. You still have to research the old fashioned way. (DNA) is not going to replace your paper trail.”

In other business, the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society also applauded that “paper trail” research by awarding its 65th “First Families of Van Zandt County” certificate to descendants of pioneer William Pate Carter. Charles William Archer and his sister Janice Morris of Dallas each received certificates based on family research.

The Society honors those whose research proves an ancestor who was in Van Zandt County by December 31, 1860.

Archer’s research states “William Pate Carter followed his father, Solomon Carter, and his brothers to Van Zandt County between 1855 and 1858.  He first settled at Four Mile Prairie and later farmed in the Tundra community.”

Carter served as County commissioner in 1878 and 1880. He died in 1903 and is buried at Cool Springs Cemetery.

For those who want to research ancestors from Van Zandt County or elsewhere, the Society maintains an in-depth genealogical library in the Van Zandt County Courthouse Annex, including books, periodicals, microfilm as well as digital information.  Volunteers staff the library full time.  Volunteer genealogists also serve the public by offering research services to family history buffs all over the nation.

Publication of genealogical and historical information is a major emphasis for the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society.  The Society also maintains an award-winning website,

Meetings are held at 2 p.m. the fourth Saturday of each month at the main Van Zandt County Library on Hwy. 859, and newcomers are always welcome.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Looking forward to looking back to 1940

1940 is just around the corner! The genealogist’s dream, which comes true every 10 years, is the release of millions of public records that might include information about our ancestors. The 1940 Census, closed due to privacy rules for 72 years, will be released in one month. It’s time for genealogists to prepare!

The federal census, the most recent of which was taken in 2010, was established by the U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 2: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.”

Despite its patriotic origins, the census has always been suspect. A modern children’s book, “Tricking the Tallyman,” highlights the first census in 1790 and some citizens who thought the “tallyman,” or head-counter, was some sort of government spy who would tax the people. The main purpose was and is to count the population to establish Congressional representation, although many other uses have developed over the centuries. Of course, to genealogists, the main purpose is to help us sort out our pedigrees!

A certain N.H. Hilyard from San Angelo, in 1940, would not hear of participating in the census.

“Uncle Sam never counted me and I never caught a census enumerator making a nose count,” the 65-year-old told a reporter, prompting a “special” visit from a census supervisor.

The 1940 census, coming just between the Great Depression and WWII, was big news across the U.S. It began in 1937 with a postcard count of the unemployed and with a massive map-making project for census takers. The maps eventually numbered about 130,000. A “trial census” was held in St. Joseph and Marshall counties, Indiana, in August 1939.

Today’s logistics engineers would be impressed with preparations for the tally. When time came for the census to begin, forms, envelopes, pencils and stationery were shipped to San Francisco and other points distant from Washington, D.C., first. The census kits filled 29,500 special wooden boxes and were treated “like gold bars,” according to news reports of the day. It took 56 railroad cars to transport the official materials.

Personnel management was massive, too, and of great interest to the populace, who had just lived through a depression where there were very few jobs to be found. The federal government hired more than 120,000 census employees. This “census army,” was armed with 328,000 pencils and was trained in census schools across the nation. Abridged instructions were 20 pages!

“A few times in the past, members of Congress have sent in applicants who could not read and write, and there have been instances in which the Bureau had to use them,” according to the Trenton, N.J., Sunday Times-Advertiser, on July 1939. As genealogists, we cringe to see this because we’ve sometimes read mangled information in the old records that can only be explained by such a statement.

It was not only humans who worked on the census. People were fascinated by a “robot army” of business machines—not a humanoid robot like we would think of today—was used to process census data. Mechanical card punches numbered 850, and there were 600 machines called “verifiers.” Fifteen “gang punches, 515 duplicating key punches, 35 tabulators and 65 duplications machines stood ready to sort and organized 138 million records, the largest census to that date.

The official census date was April 1, 1940, but some work did not begin until the 2nd because workers wanted to make sure that “April Fool’s Day” would not interfere with door-to-door workers’ welcome. Census workers in the cities were allowed two weeks to finish their count, and rural workers had 30 days. The results were to be compiled and returned to Congress in eight months.

The results have been locked in government archives since that time, closed to the public. When released, the first job of genealogists will be to create an every-name index. (Genealogists are beyond “cringing” when they hear that this huge data dump has no inherent way to zero in on a particular ancestor. Line-by-line reading of an entire geographical area, known as an enumeration district, will be the only method, until an index is produced.)

Read Part II in the next issue to find out what you need to know on Apr. 2 in order to find your “people” and find out whether N.H. Hilyard’s claim to have never been counted in six decades was true.

“Ask the Ancestors,” is a family and local history column by genealogist Lisa McKinney. Comments and questions are encouraged. Ms. McKinney's next workshop on “Preparing for 1940” will be at the Van Zandt County Library, 317 First Monday Lane, in Canton on March 24 at 2 p.m. Contact her at for more information.

Genealogists live in interesting times

For a hobby devoted to deceased ancestors, things have been very lively in the genealogy world lately. Television, the Internet, and in-person conferences are breathing life into family history.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” the program where genealogists trace the ancestry of celebrities began Season 3 Friday. The opening episode starred Martin Sheen, actor and activist, who found that his activism has deep roots in both his Irish and Spanish forebears. Naturally, celebrity genealogy requires trips overseas and private sessions with archivists! Nevertheless, it was fun to vicariously visit the old countries with Sheen.

The series began as the dream child of “Friends” cuckoo Lisa Kudrow who turns out to be savvy enough in real life to produce a popular show on a topic that has sometimes been seen as a dry and dreary list of names. The series, based on a similar series in the United Kingdom, has featured celebrities in the entertainment and sports worlds and so it has interested those who might not have been drawn to genealogy for its own sake.

The genealogy work performed can seem too good to be true and too easy at times. And it is. A one-hour segment, complete with trip to Europe, naturally has compressed much behind the scenes. Digging in the archives, the dry, dusty papers, the libraries, the ancient book look glamorous. Even the Internet work depicted on the show has been edited for dramatic interest and commercial breaks. Real genealogists know that it takes longer, that there are more brick walls and wrong turns than can possibly be presented on TV.

But, we love the series anyway. We hope it will bring interest – which we’ve been unable to awaken by ourselves – to members of our family. It’s an old story among genealogists that we cannot get our families – our living relatives, that is, to become interested in our second-great-great-aunt from Bugtussle. But show an episode, as was done in the first season of Emmitt Smith and his search for roots in slavery, and the living room becomes quiet as mild-mannered genealogists open up a dramatic personal history.

The next big thing to open up for ancestor-seekers is the 1940 Federal Census. Closed to the public by law for 72 years, the 1940 Census will be released April 2. Such releases are an every-ten-years excitement for genealogists who use the records to discover family relationships and vital information about their forebears. This World War II-era census is particularly exciting because of new questions and because of increased longevity which leads heritage-seekers to reliably assume that there may be many people still living who might find themselves on the enumerations.

I will be leading “1940 Is Here!” workshops in Tyler and Canton, Texas, to explain the ins and outs and what to expect as the records are released in raw form. No index will be available at first for the more than 130 million records, but this will be the first decade of record to be opened on digitally on the Internet rather than by now-old-fashioned microfilm.

Finally, RootsTech 2012 just wrapped up last week in Salt Lake City. This convention of old-time genealogists and the most up-to-the minute geeky gadget purveyors has generated lots of interest. Faster search engines (be still my heart!), portable scanners, and new data collections are only a sampling of the kinds of topics covered. RootsTech was part of a several days-long stretch of independent conferences and institutes, including those held by the Association for Professional Genealogists and the Utah Genealogical Association’s Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. This has created a great energy and synchronicity, and Twitter and Facebook posts have been full of excitement. The next big conference, after RootsTech/APG/SLIG will be GRIP. Acronyms are popular among genealogists, and GRIP is the newest. It stands for Genealogy Research Institute of Pittsburgh and has attracted some of the field’s top speakers and instructors. Cruises, genealogy research trips and local societies are growing, as well.

Whether by TV, “Google machine,” or in person, heredity-hounds have new options that are animating one of America’s top hobbies.

2012 Genealogy Resolutions

What are your 2012 genealogy resolutions? Try these top five suggestions on for size:

1.      Pounce on the 1940 Federal Census as soon as it is released in April. In the meantime, spruce up your records for ancestors living in the 1930s. Fill in any gaps you have that lead up to your ancestor’s life on census date in 1940. The main piece of information you will want to locate is your ancestor’s address at that time. This census, taken 72 years ago, is the latest to be released by the National Archives and Records Administration. It will be the first to be released only in digital form. There will be no microfilm produced, which has been the normal method for decades. An initial drawback is that the information is not yet indexed; however there are volunteers across the country who will be indexing as fast as they can. Find out about indexing efforts at

2.      Review your database subscriptions. Make sure that you have the online access you need in order to use various databases. Two leading free websites for United States genealogy are and FamilySearch delivers more results, including document images, when you register. USGenWeb does not require a subscription, but it does accept donations. FamilySearch is sponsored by the LDS church. USGenWeb is a nationwide volunteer effort. Other top websites are, and Each of these offers some level of service for free, but to get the full benefit the paid subscriptions are often necessary. Check on-line for New Year’s specials for these sites, which can be pricey.

3.      Review your society memberships. Genealogists, who normally collect “dead relatives,” are also joiners among the living! Join your local society, even if you have moved in to the area and do not have forebears to research. The benefits to you include education and camaraderie. Also, join societies in far-flung areas where your people once lived. The dues for such societies are generally low and frequently offer free queries. Also, consider a membership to a society that is not based on geography but based on a research interest, such as Cherokee, adoption, immigration. Finally, update your membership in national societies, such as the National Genealogical Society. If you (and your paperwork) are ready, now is the time to send in an application to a lineage society.

4.      Plan for this year’s education. Genealogy is a field where there is always something to learn. New record releases, new methodologies and new speakers keep the field vibrant and interesting. Will you look for conferences, workshops and classes close to home, in a destination you’ve always wanted to visit, on a cruise ship or on the Internet?  It’s up to you. Classes abound, and you are sure to find one that meets your needs and whets your appetite for more.

5.      Share your research. This is one of the most important aspects of genealogy. We sometimes sit at our computer and simply “collect” ancestors. We file them away and never think of them again. Preserve family stories. Write them down. Email them. Blog about them. Collaborate with others when there is a particularly knotty problem. Share. Have a family reunion. Visit an old-time community “Homecoming.”  Make sure that those dry statistics – names, dates and places – don’t become the end-all and be-all of your work.

You will be able to come up with many more resolutions that fit your research and your experience level. Genealogy is a lifelong pursuit for many people. Intrinsic rewards are abundant—and much more so to the genealogist who takes stock and sets goals.

Ask the Ancestors is a family and local history column by professional genealogist Lisa McKinney. Contact her at